I often see jokes made about how expensive it can be to visit your favorite theme park. It’s not uncommon to find a guest in a theme park wearing an Etsy-made shirt reading “Most expensive day ever.”
There is an art to theme parks making money. It must be ensured that guests feel like their day is a worthy value, so you can’t always just charge more to enter. Theme parks are getting creative with more of a focus on additional hard ticket events that your day ticket or annual pass won’t get you into, specialty merchandising experiences, Instagram-worthy food at a high cost, tours, VIP experiences, options to cut lines and more. But there seems to be one simple area where theme parks could be making so much money (even when people aren’t in the parks), and once the infrastructure is in place, it would be fairly inexpensive to run from what I can tell.
As we’ve all been social distancing indoors with little theme park news to discuss, I have seen a lot more people looking back to old attractions of yesteryear to reminisce and post about on social media. People are missing the times they were able to visit Norway in a Viking boat or be chased by a great white shark from the “safety” of their tour boat. Nostalgia was already king before this pandemic, but the kingdom seems to have grown since we’ve all been cooped up indoors.
When I was growing up, the one piece of merch I always needed to purchase at theme parks was the souvenir video. I was obsessed with reliving the experiences I’d had all day long. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been popping in my Universal Studios souvenir tapes hosted by John Forsythe or my Walt Disney World vacation planning videos just to fill the theme-park-visiting hole in my heart at the moment. These souvenir videos seem to be a dying art at this point. It was always nice to have an official and professionally-made tape to revisit after my vacations.
There’s no doubt that a lot of fans do a great job keeping favorite theme park attractions alive after their closure on sites like YouTube. I’m sure that’s part of the reason why the souvenir videos aren’t made anymore. But one area of a theme park that isn’t cataloged or preserved nearly as often is the plethora of pre-show videos shown at many attractions.
Some of my favorites include the videos shown in-queue featuring Michael Eisner at Disney-MGM Studios. And who can forget the short film “Back to Never Land” featuring Robin Williams and Walter Cronkite at the Magic of Disney Animation? Even if you can find a fan recording online, the question begs to be asked: why can’t I find the original video preserved somewhere for fans to view?
One time where the preservation of a video-based theme park attraction was released for public consumption was in 2009. That year, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment released the 1985 film “Back to the Future” on DVD. This wasn’t the first time the movie was released, but it was the first time the DVD included the original source video of Back to the Future: The Ride—featuring not only the on-ride video, but also all of the lobby monitor and pre-show footage. This was a dream come true for a theme park nerd like myself. Even though I already owned the film trilogy on DVD, I knew that I needed to purchase this new release just for the ride footage.
If I was willing to spend more money for a disc featuring mostly footage I already owned, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that a lot of theme park fans would spend money to have access to a library of old theme park video content used in attractions. And let’s face it, this is content that already exists and wouldn’t cost the companies any additional money to produce. We don’t need the videos to be “cleaned up.” In fact, I’d prefer to see them in their original forms. If there were a website I could subscribe to where I could look up all of the video footage from attractions—whether it’s queue footage, pre-show, or the actual attraction video itself—I would 100 percent pay for that service. I don’t think I’m alone on this.
Disney could easily make this available on Disney+ since they already have the infrastructure in place, but I think it would also be cool as a separate website. If Universal Studios was to make a site, they could also include those previously mentioned souvenir videos. I would love to be able to view Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, or The Funtastic World of Hanna Barbera on a whim.
So what do you think? I know we live in a world with so many monthly subscription-based services like Netflix and Hulu, but would you consider paying a fee to have access to all of these professionally recorded videos?
And to anyone at Disney or Universal reading this, I am begging you to please make this a reality. Better yet, I’m available for hire. I think the title of “Theme Park Attractions Video Archivist Preservation Presenter” is a title that fits me well. Or perhaps something shorter.
Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” the ultimate, unofficial Disney fan podcast. Get your FREE gifts of “America’s Hidden Mickeys,” “On the Rohde Again,” “Theme Park Comfort Kit” and more at DizneyCoastToCoast.com.